Researchers launch new tool for building social cohesion

Posted on 04 Jun 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Social cohesion

The nation’s leading social cohesion research organisation has launched a new online platform designed to foster democratic resilience.

The Scanlon Foundation Research Institute described the Social Cohesion Compass as a data visualisation tool that allows users to better understand the level of democratic participation in local government areas.

The interactive tool is designed to enable individuals and organisations to research and plan programs to foster social cohesion and democratic resilience.

The compass allows users to:

  • view the demographic and socio-economic profiles of local government areas across the nation
  • ascertain what elements need to be incorporated in programs to strengthen social cohesion and democratic resilience
  • choose the right program components to suit different target age groups
  • see where each LGA sits in relation to political participation and income or education.

The compass also allows users to see whether individual LGAs rank above or below the national average in two Scanlon Foundation Research Institute databases:

  • the Scanlon-Monash Index, which measures the five domains of social cohesion: worth, social justice, acceptance, belonging, participation
  • the Democracy Index, which uses data from the Mapping Social Cohesion survey to measure confidence in institutions and political participation.
Social Cohesion Compass screenshot
“Those who have been here longer tended to be a little bit more critical of the way democracy was working.”
Scanlon Foundation senior researcher Trish Prentice.

The compass builds on the findings of a major research project by the Scanlon Foundation on strengthening democracy.

This study investigated community discourse on democracy, in a bid to understand how different segments of the community talk about democracy, the levels of support for democracy and how these discussions are framed.

The study included a detailed analysis of how Australians, the media and politicians talk about democracy and what should inform the design of place-based community programs that aim to foster democratic resilience or social cohesion.

Scanlon Foundation senior researcher Trish Prentice conducted survey interviews with four distinct groups of Australians on their attitudes toward democracy: the general population, migrants, and Australia’s Chinese and Indian communities.

When asked what democracy meant to them, their views differed.

“With the national [general] study group there was more of an emphasis on processes and procedures whereas in the migrant group, it was on rights and freedoms,” said Ms Prentice.

On a different question, 68% of migrants felt democracy was working in Australia, whereas only 42% of the general population agreed.

“Those who have been here longer tended to be a little bit more critical of the way democracy was working,” said Ms Prentice.

Anthea Hancocks
Scanlon Foundation CEO Anthea Hancocks.

When asked about the biggest threats to Australian democracy, the top three answers from all Australians were the influence of corporations on government decision making; people not having a say and politicians vested interests.

Scanlon Foundation Research Institute CEO Anthea Hancocks said trust was a foundation stone of social cohesion.

“So, any declines in interpersonal or institutional trust are always concerning.”

Ms Hancocks said research by the Scanlon Foundation had found there had been a decline in trust in government and political systems since the covid pandemic.

This included divisions in trust in government along political, demographic and socioeconomic lines, and widely held doubts about the integrity of politicians and the electoral system.

“And all of this has led to a lower sense of trust in government which negatively impacts social cohesion.”

Concerns about democracy slide

Despite these trends, Ms Hancocks said Australia’s was democracy is highly regarded around the world for its robustness, adaptability, functionality and resilience.

“[But] clearly, not everybody is satisfied.

“So, we were invited to partner with the Strengthening Democracy Taskforce – part of the Department of Home Affairs – to look at a number of different elements which would help to strengthen democratic resilience.”

These included:

  • understanding how and when Australians, the media and politicians talk about democracy
  • conducting a global search for peer-reviewed articles that evaluate programs designed to improve civic and political participation
  • creating a tool (Social Cohesion Compass) that people could use to better understand their local area, and that would track democratic resilience and informs program design.

Ms Hancocks said the Social Cohesion Compass was a useful interactive tool for individuals, researchers, policymakers, and anyone interested in gaining valuable insights into the geographic profile of Australia’s democratic resilience and social cohesion.

“We created this data visualisation tool to give the information more context and make it very relevant in users local area.”

More information

Report reveals a nation under pressure

I am, you are, we are Australian

More news

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!